5 Reasons Healthcare Shouldn't Fear Patient Negativity on Social Media

By John Trader
08:28 AM

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that social media is revolutionizing the way that healthcare communicates. Many healthcare organizations have embraced social media as an opportune way to:

•    Listen

•    Build a community

•    Recruit employees

•    Manage a brand

•    Manage reputation and customer relations

•    Develop consumer, patient, and professional education

•    Monitor population and patients

•    Recruit clinical trial participants

•    Conduct research for product development

Yet there are still plenty in the industry that have not established any social media presence who could stand to benefit from the investment in time and resources. It seems counterintuitive that more healthcare organizations haven’t jumped on the social media bandwagon considering that recent federal IT regulations emphasize improvements and a significant growth in patient engagement -- and social media is one of the most effective channels of communication to reach that goal!

With every investment comes an element of risk, and social media isn’t any different. Although it can be a very effective patient communication tool, healthcare entities that jump into the social media sphere also open themselves up to criticisms, complaints, objections, and grievances – all of which can make a C-level cringe and lose sleep at night wondering how this may affect the bottom line.

So maybe you are one of the ones still sitting on the social media sidelines, contemplating the pros and cons, still wondering what type of ripple effect negativity could have on your organization. Instead of fearing how negativity can hurt your reputation, fuel misunderstandings or (gasp) drive patients away, think about these 5 reasons that negativity on social media can instead be a benefit:

1.    Identifying areas of improvement

Participating in social media is bound to uncover some weaknesses in your organization. Maybe your admitting staff is consistently disrespectful to patients, or perhaps waiting times are abnormally high due to inefficient workflows. Patients seek this type of information so they can manage their expectations while healthcare organizations relish the opportunity to know what areas need improvement.

Negativity can be interpreted as an unfiltered look into your facility and help to more effectively identify areas of improvement that need immediate solutions for the good of everyone. Embrace negativity and offer thanks to those who take the time to express their feelings.

2.    Altering the course of a conversation

 Although we have an innate fear of negative comments about our businesses, they offer the opportunity to change the conversation and a patient’s experience. Through timely validation of a negative comment and an open discussion of your commitment to improve, negativity can be transformed quickly into positive brand sentiment (see #4).  Plus, it offers you the opportunity to make amends on something that clearly is a problem affecting what could be many more patients than you thought but who have been thus far too timid to speak up.

3.    Providing a cultivated community the opportunity to respond

One of the basic tenets of social media participation is community building. You invest the time and effort to build, develop, and nurture that community and if a patient leaves a negative comment for all to see, it’s a chance for your community to step up and provide advice to you on how to fix the problem or proactively speak up on your behalf. Social media tends to breed community compassion and loyalty, key traits that can work to your advantage in the face of negativity.

4.    Building positive brand sentiment

If your expectation is that social media participation only breeds happy, satisfied patients then perhaps it’s best if you go and live in utopia with the unicorns. Social media fosters both positive and negative feelings from patients; the key is knowing how to use both to your advantage.

Negative comments or reviews offer the opportunity for a healthcare organization to tout their customer service skills and demonstrate patient appreciation. Instead of hand wringing and lamenting the negativity, turn it into a positive by first acknowledging the negative comment or review and then quickly responding. I assure you that patients are using increasingly using social media platforms to monitor healthcare organizations and critiquing responses and actions to both positive and negative comments. If they see an organization responding to a negative comment with respect and maturity they are much more likely to look favorably on you than if the response is abrasive and defensive.

5.    Negativity Breeds Validity

If you were a patient shopping around for a new primary care physician or in search of a second opinion and stumbled across a healthcare facility social media site that was nothing but outstanding reviews and satisfied patients, wouldn’t you wonder if something was amiss? The truth is, no one in the social media world has 100% customer satisfaction, and everyone has room for improvement.

Negativity shows the world that you are human, and make mistakes just like everyone else. Today’s modern patient is savvy, educated, perceptive, and adroit at discerning truth and authenticity over fluff and pomp. Remember that people want to see the good and the bad when preparing to make a confident decision based on what they discern is important to them. Seeing both sides of the coin helps in that process.

If you are currently a “social media spectator” and lamenting on whether or not to participate, consider these 5 reasons to face negativity with courage and resolve, using it to your advantage to help build a stronger and more loyal community of patients.